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Democratic Decline in Malaysia: From Independence to Perikatan Nasional 


John Funston, Visiting Fellow


Virtual event


Tuesday, 1 June, 2021 - 12:30 to 14:00

This is a joint event presented in collaboration with the ANU Malaysia Institute and the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, and is part of the ANU Malaysia Institute Seminar Series.

About this event

The 1957 Malayan independence constitution was a ‘bargain’ between Malay, Chinese and Indian communities. It retained important symbols of Malay identity, but represented in essence a Westminster-style liberal, secular democracy, that gave equal rights to all through a common citizenship. The formation of Malaysia in 1963, with the incorporation of Sabah and Sarawak, reinforced these arrangements.

But Malaysia has, with minor exceptions, seen a steady erosion of democracy since 1957. It is now ruled by a self-declared Malay-Muslim government, that came to power without electoral support and currently rules by emergency decree. How has this come about, and what are the prospects for democracy in the future?  

About the speaker

John Funston is a Visiting Fellow in the Department of Political and Social Change, College of Asia and the Pacific, ANU. He was previously Associate Director (2002-2004) and Executive Director (2005-2007) of the National Thai Studies Centre, ANU. He has worked on Southeast Asian politics, particularly Malaysia and Thailand, for over four decades, including 14 years in the region, at the National University of Malaysia (1972-1976), Brunei University (1986-1989), and the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore (1997-2001).

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About the ANU Malaysia Institute Seminar Series

The 2021 ANU Malaysia Institute Seminar Series showcases cutting-edge research by leading and emerging scholars based primarily in Australia and Malaysia. It aims to promote research particularly in the social sciences and humanities, and ultimately further discussions and collaborations among Malaysian Studies scholars in Australia, Malaysia and globally. 

The series will run once a month for the remainder of the academic year, and will subsequently be made available online for public viewing. Please sign up to the Malaysia Institute mailing list to receive updates and reminders ahead of each seminar.

The first three seminars topics are as follows, with available recordings to be provided after the public webinar has concluded. Three more will be announced later in the year. 

Future seminars:

  • June: Dr John Funston  (ANU) 'Democratic Decline in Malaysia: From Independence to Perikatan Nasional'
  • July: Dr Mulaika Hijjas (SOAS) 'Jawi script: language, people and religion'.
  • August: Dr Ross Tapsell (ANU) 'Disinformation in Malaysia: from cybertroopers to anti-fake news laws'



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